TAMPA — Moments after Armwood senior Gabe Nold received the best news he has had in eight months, attorney Peter Hobson huddled with his brawny 18-year-old client, and his client's dad, in a Hillsborough circuit court hallway.
Then, at a decibel level barely above a whisper, Hobson delivered his one-sentence victory speech: Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But you never give up.
With that, Hobson and Nold embraced.
Months of legal wrangling finally elicited a dividend of hope Tuesday morning, when circuit judge Sam D. Pendino issued a temporary injunction in Nold's favor after a one-hour hearing. Nold recently had filed a lawsuit against the Florida High School Athletic Association.
The injunction means Nold (far left), declared ineligible for 365 days last spring after then-Armwood principal Michael Ippolito determined he used false residence data to move from Wharton to Armwood, can wrestle in this weekend's county meet. Ironically enough, it will be held at Wharton.
"I'm just so excited," said Nold, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound center who missed his entire senior football season at Armwood but still attended nearly every practice. "I can't thank Peter enough, and I'm just so blessed by how everything turned out."
On Tuesday, Hobson (far right) argued Nold's case against longtime FHSAA attorney Leonard Ireland, whose group denied Nold's eligibility appeals three different times — twice at the sectional level.
Hobson reiterated that Nold was denied eligibility based on a solitary visit by Ippolito, then-Armwood athletic director Don Hill and county AD Lanness Robinson to the one-bedroom apartment in which Nold's father resides in Armwood's district. Nold's parents are separated.
Ippolito testified Tuesday that there appeared to be insufficient items in the dwelling for two people. Ireland also presented the lease agreement showing Nold's father as the apartment's lone occupant.
"It didn't look lived in," Ippolito said.
That determination, Hobson argued, did not meet the due-process standard afforded to student-athletes under a new prep sports-related bill enacted by the Florida Legislature last summer. House Bill 1403 states: "Ineligibility must be established by clear and convincing evidence."
Hobson furthered that argument by indicating volumes of cell phone records — and testimony from a cell phone expert — subsequently provided by the Nolds essentially weren't considered by the FHSAA. On cross-examination Tuesday, Ippolito said he didn't have adequate understanding of the records to make a ruling on their validity.
"It seems like nobody had an understanding of what clear and convincing evidence means," Pendino said.
Hawks wrestling coach C.J. Gittens said via text message Nold will wrestle this weekend, but his status for next week's Class 2A, District 9 meet is unclear. FHSAA bylaws require an individual student-athlete to participate in a minimum four contests to be eligible for the postseason.
The provision is waived if a student-athlete who is academically ineligible at the start of the season regains his or her eligibility. Gittens indicated he feels the FHSAA also will waive the provision in this case.
"This came down to an interpretation of a newly enacted statute which we think the court agreed with us. When these appeals go up, they've got to be done right," Hobson said.
"And this is an encouraging sign for all principals and athletes around the state, as well as their parents, because now they know that the due process is being better defined and the standard by which people behave and conduct their hearings is now being better articulated. It's a win for the state."